The classic colours: white, black, grey and pink absenteeism

White absenteeism is the absence type that has a medical complaint as the cause. These employees are at home on doctor’s orders because they are sick. It is indisputable that the employee is unfit to work. About 25 to 30 percent of all absenteeism is white absenteeism.

The black variant of absenteeism due to illness is the fraudulent opposite. This employee reports in sick and stays at home despite having no medical reason to do so. This type of absence is outside the rules, and is uncommon. About 5% of total absenteeism is black absenteeism.

Grey absenteeism lies in between. There is a medical complaint involved, but it is not clear whether the complaint is a real reason to be 100% unable to work. Another alternative is an employee who was unfit for work for a set period, but still has a few days left to run on the sick note. Due to the medical nature of this type of absenteeism, grey absenteeism is difficult to discuss. However, about 70% of absenteeism falls under this category.

Finally there is pink absenteeism, also known as presenteeism. In this case, employees are too sick to come to work, but they show up anyway. This can be detrimental: these employees are not necessarily productive, and there is a chance the complaints will worsen due to the lack of rest. And in the case of infectious diseases, there is also the risk that the employee will infect colleagues.

A new colour framework is required

The doctor’s certificate is the starting point for the classic absenteeism colours. Unfortunately, this has limitations. A doctor’s note rules out any discussion about the duration of the absence. Moreover, a certificate puts an employee in a box: suddenly they are 100% incapacitated for work. However, the reality of absenteeism is of course a lot more nuanced than that. But who can argue against the doctor’s advice?

Therefore, a new colour frame is required that no longer focuses on 100% sick or healthy, but on the employability of an employee. What tasks can or does the employee want to take on? How can the team members and supervisor support the employee in this? What are the timelines associated with each of the tasks?

Green, orange or red?

Employees who do not come to work could be given an opportunity to express themselves as green, orange or red:

  • Green: an employee who can still work and could come to work (at the workplace, home or a satellite location).
  • Orange: an employee who can, in principle, still work, but lacks support to (partially) do so.
  • Red: an employee who cannot work.

If the employee says, “I am green or orange”, it means there is the possibility of dialogue – which relies on friendly professionalism – to achieve the intention.

Discover the weak spots in your absenteeism policy

Do you know the pain points in your organisation? And do you know how to approach them? A targeted absenteeism policy will help you prevent avoidable absenteeism, though it does require time and customisation.